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Greens against the Work from Home Blues

After yet another work from home week, I spent my Saturday at the “Gardens of the World”. I could not help but think about my Environmental Psychology course at University and wonder if there is scientific evidence for my vague guess of feeling more restored, content, creative and focused after spending time in the park.

Indeed, researchers from University of Minnesota and Texas Tech University just published a review of “restorative environments” and how they could ease working from home in times of lockdown and isolation.

The research group reviewed relevant literature published between 2010 and 2020 that focuses on two application areas of restorative environments

  1. Green breaks
  2. Green spaces

The ‘green breaks’ stream focuses on possibilities to take breaks in nature surroundings (e.g. having a walk in the park) or filling breaks with nature content (e.g. watching a nature documentary). While the ‘green spaces’ aspect focuses on benefits of bringing nature elements in the home office (e.g. home plants).

Moreover, selected research articles needed to report on relevant outcome variables such as performance, stress level, or affect.

In contrast to the majority of research papers, the review at hand focuses on communicating possible applications of the research findings that can be summarized in 5 specific interventions.

1. Immerse yourself in nature

We all know that we have to take breaks throughout the workday to stay productive. Studies show that not only our performance goes up after spending time in the park, but also our stress levels decline – not only subjective but also physiological

Here is a picture from my latest stroll through Berlin Winter Wonderland.

2. Look at natural scenes

Good news for the lazy reader: You don’t have to go outside yourself. Research shows, that even watching videos of nature or looking at moving pictures make you feel and work better.

I watch nature documentaries very regularly, and next to the reported upsides, I learn tons of “useless facts” (Did you know the Nile is composed of two streams, called ‘White Nile’ and ‘Blue Nile’? They converge in Sudan – right in time – to cross the biggest dessert of the world: the Sahara.)

Sadly, I had to learn that studies with static images of nature often produce null results. (That lead me to the thought if nature Zoom backgrounds – think rhythmic beach waves and palm trees in the wind – might increase well-being?)

3. Listen to nature sounds

One underrated sense is the sense of hearing! Listening to nature soundscapes produced stable results for improving performance and stress measures of study participants.

Personally, I use the app ‘Headspace’ for my daily dose of nature sounds: lazy rivers, drops in the rainforest, soothing waterfalls, tropical beaches, busy ponds and more. 

4. Sit in front of a window

Fleeing from your ‘home schooling’ kids and working from the basement might not be the best idea. Both, green spaces and green breaks research suggest the positive effects of window views such as sustained attention. However, if you can choose between the city skyline and a green roof, go for the latter.

5. Get yourself a home plant

As a proud possessor of 40+ indoor plants, I was happy to learn that plants in sight of your work desk improve work productivity and even reduces sick days.

In case it seems like too much of a burden to take care of living plants, the authors advise that artificial greenery is better than no greenery at all.

Even though the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses given rise every day, it’s realistic to assume that Work from Home will stay for the months to come. So, let’s use some greenery to fight the WFH-Blues!

With major companies (e.g. Spotify) announcing “Work from Anywhere” policies, you might also want to consider ‘nature’ as criterion for deciding where your desk should be located next.

Source: Craig, C. M., Neilson, B. N., Altman, G. C., Travis, A. T., & Vance, J. A. Applying Restorative Environments in the Home Office While Sheltering-in-Place. Human Factors, 0018720820984286.